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Charles Dickens in Love

Using hundreds of primary sources, Charles Dickens in Love narrates the story of the most intense romances of Charles Dickens' life and shows how his novels both testify to his own strongest affections and serve as memorials to the young women he loved all too well, if not always wisely.

When Charles Dickens died in 1870, he was the best-known man in the English-speaking world - the preeminent Victorian celebrity, universally mourned as both a noble spirit and the greatest of novelists. Yet, the first person named in his will was an unknown woman named Ellen Ternan - only a handful of people had any idea who she was. Of his romance with Ellen, Dickens had written, "it belongs to my life and probably will only die out of the same with the proprietor," and so it was. She remained the most important person in his life until his death.

She was not the first woman who had fired his imagination. As a young man he had fallen deeply in love with a woman who "pervaded every chink and crevice" of his mind for three years, Maria Beadnell. When she eventually jilted him he vowed that "I never can love any human creature but yourself."

A few years later he was stunned by the sudden death of his young sister-in-law, Mary Scott Hogarth, and worshiped her memory for the rest of his life. "I solemnly believe that so perfect a creature never breathed," he declared, and he died over thirty years later still wearing her ring. Charles Dickens has no rival as the most fertile creative imagination since William Shakespeare, and no one influenced his imagination more powerfully than these three women, his muses and teachers in the school of love.

Robert Garnett is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the University of Virginia (Ph.D.), and currently Professor of English at Gettysburg College. He has been researching Dickens for over a dozen years, has presented papers on him at many academic conferences, and has published articles on his life and novels in scholarly journals such as Dickens Quarterly and Dickens Studies Annual.